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Age Lowers the Boom on Baby Boomers
The first baby boomers turned 65 last year. The golden years of the boomers are likely to be a lot different from what they were for previous generations of Americans. Specifically, they're going to be a lot lonelier and poorer, according to a recent study from researchers at Bowling Green University.
About one-third of all boomers are unmarried, a percentage that's been steadily rising since 1980, when just 20% were unmarried. And this growth hasn't been because of widowhood. Most single boomers are divorced or simply never married. Apparently, the generation who trusted no one over 30 ran out of people to trust.
Actually, the idea that baby boomers came of age during the days of peace, love and Woodstock is a misconception. Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. Younger boomers came of age during the Reagan era, a time of very different sensibilities than the Vietnam War era their older counterparts grew up in. But they're all aging together. Seventy-nine million strong.
In the past, the American extended family provided some support to aging individuals. That system is basically gone, leaving single boomers with little of a support net. And studies have consistently shown that unmarried people report lower physical and psychological well-being than married people do. They're also poorer on average than their married counterparts, with those who never married or are widowed being worse off than those who are divorced, differences that the Bowling Green study found also held true for single boomers.
According to the study, one in five single boomers is living in poverty while only one in 20 of their married counterparts are. Single boomers are twice as likely to be disabled, but they're also less likely to have health insurance.
The study also dispels the myth that most single boomers are aging greybeards. They're disproportionately women, non-white and among the younger of the boomers.
Around 19% of single boomers said they were receiving food stamps, public assistance or supplemental Social Security income, compared to 6% of married boomers.
The overall picture painted by the study is a bleak one, with no obvious solution. The study concludes: "Boomers are a diverse group, with various risk profiles that must be recognized by health care providers, social service agencies, and other forms of institutional support to ensure that all Boomers age well and that society is able to provide adequate services to all Boomers, regardless of marital status."
As well as a little peace, love and happiness.
An article on the study appears in the The Gerontologist and is freely available. The entire issue of the journal is devoted to baby boomers.
May 24, 2012